The Law Council of Australia (LCA) has adopted an updated equitable briefing policy that sets out targets for the briefing of women barristers.
Under the policy, signatories set an aim to brief women in 30 per cent of all matters and pay women 30 per cent of the value of all brief fees by 2020. Both targets drop to 20 per cent in relation to senior barristers.
The new initiative is a revamp of the Model Equal Opportunity Briefing Policy for Female Barristers and Advocates, which was launched by the LCA in 2004 and amended in 2009.
However, this new policy goes much further than the original in its efforts to create accountability, though all targets remain "non-mandatory".
Aside from including briefing targets for the first time, signatories will also be asked to provide a confidential report of their briefing figures back to the Law Council of Australia each year.
This data will then be made public, though individual firm statistics will not be released.
Law Council of Australia president Stuart Clark said names of those who have adopted the policy would also be published to "encourage cultural change".
"The support by the leaders of the various Bar Associations and Law Societies is very encouraging, but it’s obviously only the start," he said.
"We have moved beyond simply acknowledging the problem and are now all working together to begin to address it."
The policy was championed by Law Council of Australia president-elect Fiona McLeod SC, who was also instrumental in encouraging Australia’s largest companies to sign up to an equitable briefing policy last year in her previous role as Australian Bar Association president.
"This new policy reflects a genuine commitment by the profession to address inequality in briefing practices that have resulted in relatively low appearance rates and the persistent significant disparity in fees," she said.
She stressed the need to attract more diversity to the bar by "showing young women such a career is possible".
"Currently, we have a situation in which women are graduating from Australian law schools in significantly larger numbers than their male counterparts, yet they make up a low percentage of barristers, spend fewer hours in court, and get paid less in fees," she said.
The original iteration of the LCA equitable briefing policy had a number of flaws, according to a report by the NSW Bar Association Equitable Briefing Working Group from August last year.
In particular, it failed to "establish tangible obligations as to outcomes" and "lacked a comprehensive register of organisations that had adopted the policy" – failings which the newest iteration of the policy appear to address.
Overall, the working group evaluated that the policy failed to translate to a change in briefing practices.
However, the Law Council of Australia expressed its full faith in the updated initiative.
"I am confident that given the very real intent to improve the situation that exists both within and without the legal profession, the Equitable Briefing Policy can provide the structure for real and meaningful change," Mr Clark said.
Law firms, as well as government and corporate in-house counsel, will be invited to sign up to the policy. A series of events around Australia will mark the launch over coming weeks.